After being temporarily relocated to Boom Island Park last year, Rock the Garden 2017 returned to the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. The one-day festival, hosted by the Walker Art Center and MPR’s The Current, now has two stages across the grounds- a main stage located down hill from the museum, and the Garden Stage parked adjacent to the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry. Amazingly, this event sold out during the pre-sale to members of the Walker Art Center and MPR.
This year brought a diverse lineup to the newly-renovated Sculpture Garden with soulful vocalist, Margaret Glaspy, indie-rockers, Car Seat Headrest, singer-songwriter, Benjamin Booker, Minneapolis legends, The Revolution, Eau Claire natives, Bon Iver, and local artists Dwynell Roland, Bruise Violet, and Dead Man Winter.
The day was off to a lovely start with Margaret Glaspy’s unique vocals opening the main stage and charming the audience. Seattle-based Car Seat Headrest followed with a raw, genuine set that had just the right amount of indie-messiness. Rapper Dwynell Roland drew a good amount of the crowd to the Garden Stage for his high-energy set, including guest appearances by Doomtree member, P.O.S., and frequent collaborator, Devon Reason. Benjamin Booker brought classic rock ’n roll, bluesy-soul vibes back to the main stage as he performed tunes from his new album, Witness.
Dead Man Winter headlined the smaller Garden Stage. Fronted by Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles, Dead Man Winter started as an electric side project but has quickly gained a dedicated following. DMW recently released their latest LP, Furnace, earlier this year and performed many of their new songs for the substantial crowd. While most of the new album features bright melodies, the lyrics are rather bleak as Simonett used his music as an outlet after his unfortunate split with his former wife. Despite the depressing subject matter, Simonett and his band put on an incredible show as always.
The Revolution played their first of two consecutive hometown shows before headlining First Avenue on Sunday. Although they disbanded in the mid ‘80s due to inner turmoil, the group decided to put their personal differences aside and go back on tour following the death of their founder, Prince. The five-piece band breezed through their discography with Prince, including hits such as “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” They even brought Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on stage for “Erotic City” before closing with an emotional rendition of “Purple Rain.” The Revolution still have three more tour dates across the country, but are alluding to another indefinite hiatus after this tour.
Bon Iver took the stage just as the sun was setting behind them. Eager fans had been bearing the blazing heat all day for their magical performance and it was definitely worth it. Vernon’s vocal manipulation and construction of his music is simply enchanting and incredible to experience live. The “folktronica” band played through their entire 2016 album, 22, A Million, front to back before diving in to tracks from their Grammy Award-winning self-titled album and the critically acclaimed LP, For Emma, Forever Ago. So far Bon Iver has been the first artist to return to Rock the Garden after initially performing in 2008. With the following Vernon has in the Twin Cities it’s entirely possible to see him on the lineup again in a few years.
Rock the Garden generally doesn’t book huge, mainstream pop acts and it seems like their demographic appreciates that. The indie vibes pair perfectly with the aesthetic venue to create a blissful day of incredible music.